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To Live in Europe

A review of Цінності об’єднаної Європи (The Values of a United Europe). By:Yulia Shcherbakova. Publisher: Vydavnychyy Centre Akademiya, Kyiv 2014.

Since Ukraine gained independence, the issue of its place in Europe has been repeatedly brought up in the public discourse. This discussion often refers to its real presence in Europe, not just rhetoric, and is focused on many dimensions. First is the social dimension, which relates to the society’s dream to “live in Europe and live like those in Europe”. Then, there is the cultural dimension, which is seen in the need to contribute to the common heritage of European culture and traditions. Last, but not least, are the economic and political dimensions that relate to Ukraine’s state interests.

June 18, 2014 - Maryana Prokop - Articles and Commentary

values of EU

Ukraine, once a republic in the Soviet Union, took on the hardships of building its own state in the 1990s. Back then, however, the Ukrainian authorities were noticeably ineffective in carrying out reforms aimed at building a truly European state. It was also at that time when Ukraine’s foreign policy became widely recognised as multi-winged with its attempts to drift between the East and the West; assuming that the country’s national interest was to simultaneously maintain friendly relations with European states and a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation. 

This model of multi-winged foreign policy initiated by President Leonid Kravchuk has, in fact, become an immanent element of Ukraine’s behaviour on the international arena. It has been applied by almost all of Ukraine’s presidents. The very same course was chosen and continued, for two terms, by Leonid Kuchma. Only Viktor Yushchenko, who on many occasions would repeat that Ukraine had chosen a pro-Western foreign policy, tried to stop it. Yet, after his removal from power, there was a regress again as Viktor Yanukovych decided to revert to the path of playing both sides.

Keeping this background in mind, the recently published book by Ukrainian scholar, Yulia Shcherbakova titled Цінності об’єднаної Європи (The Values of a United Europe) offers a valuable analysis of the values that characterise Ukrainian society, presenting them in the context of the values that characterise societies in other European countries. The book is an attempt to find answers to questions about Ukraine’s willingness to become a full member of the European Community and whether Ukrainian society shares the same value system as the ones that are observed in other European countries; or are European values as foreign to Ukrainian society as some of the languages spoken on the old continent are?

The Copenhagen criteria (the rules that define whether a country is eligible for joining the EU or not) have become the denominator of the “common values of the European Union”. This means that there are clear directives as to what states aspiring to join the common European structures should achieve. However, at the same time, it is clear that Europe is a project of multiculturalism and diversity. These two features also have an influence on flexibility in regards to the acceptance of what is recognised as common European values. For this reason alone, it is even more interesting to compare the values of European societies with the values of Ukrainian society. This analytical technique, as is performed by Shcherbakova in her book, also shows that Ukraine does indeed belong to Europe.

Shcherbakova defines the values of Ukrainian society from both a historical and contemporary perspective. While explaining what she means by the term “value”, she points to both material and non-material objects as well as ideas. She further suggests that values, just like everything else, undergo a process of change and function in a specific context. These two factors explain a certain dualism in our perception of values: first of all they reflect that values have a certain abstract dimension; being an image of some sort of Platonic idea. The second dimension is the real perception of values, which reflects the features that characterise their real meaning.

The greatest contribution of this book is the presentation and analysis of the historical and political contexts that influence the process of establishing a value system in a given society and its political culture. Shcherbakova notes that in democratic societies, axiological systems tend to support the rule of law and oppose any forms of breaching it. Ukraine’s political culture, as she further points out, is somewhat different in this regard. Shcherbakova believes that the Ukrainian society is characterised more by apoliticism, a lack of balance in political views, but also some needs of entitlement and its protection.

In later parts of the book, Shcherbakova analyses the catalogue of values using sociological surveys and opinion polls carried out throughout the EU. Evidently, this piece of research shows that the values which are most regarded by the European societies include: peace, human rights, right to life, democracy, rule of law, personal freedom, equal status, tolerance, solidarity, self-fulfilment and religion. Based on the results of the European Social Survey that was carried out between 2004-2005 in 23 European countries and included both the member-states of the European Union and Ukraine, the catalogue of values most valued by Ukrainian society is presented and compared with the values regarded in Europe. Interestingly, the evidence here shows quite significant differences. First of all, it becomes quite clear that values such as tradition, security and obedience to authorities are much more strongly present in Ukraine than they are in Europe. Conversely, values such as independence and empowerment are much weaker.

These values have also had an impact on the way Ukrainian society is perceived by others. For example, when the indicators determining attitudes regarding the authorities are taken into account, we get a picture of Ukrainians as a people who value being protected by a strong state, have conservative views and are afraid of social judgments. At the same time, the research results show that Ukraine is not a monolith with regards to axiological systems and significant differences can be observed between regions. The greatest difference that has been noticed isn’t between the east and the west, but rather between the west and the centre.

Another piece of analysis, namely the interpretation of research carried out by the Gorshenin Institute called “The Morality of Ukrainian Society” allows a political portrait of contemporary Ukrainian society. This portrait consists of features such as: the low level of obedience to the law (legal nihilism), building the rule of law as not being a priority, hope for the emergence of a strong leader able to fix mistakes of previous governments, hope to improve the people’s standards of living, a lack of political engagement and interest in politics, a low level of activism in political, social and professional organisations, and overall low levels of trust and tolerance to others.

These values are clearly in contrast with what Europeans historically tend to regard as their greatest achievement, namely development of democracy as the best possible political system. It is this experience in building a civil society that connects people from different European states in sharing a strong adherence to the right to decide about their lives. The Ukrainian example confirms that the process of building a democratic system needs to be accompanied by an implementation of specific values that are favourable to its existence and that need to be shared by the society. For Shcherbakova, this means that Ukrainian society still needs to put more effort into the intensification of real democratisation processes, increasing the government’s accountability before the people, increasing citizen activism and initiatives, creating mechanisms for allowing people to participate in the decision-making processes, ensuring feedback mechanisms for people-government relations, creating mechanisms for recalling parliamentarians and holding those who are in power accountable (both in legal and political terms).

The Values of a United Europe presents an in-depth analysis of the value system of Ukrainian society in a context that is characteristic for a united Europe. Based on the research findings that it presents, we can notice that the catalogues of values of Ukrainian society and the European societies are somewhat different. The picture of Ukrainian society that we get from these analyses comes across as disadvantageous when compared to other European societies. What should be pointed out, however, is that there are also values which Ukrainian society would like to share and see implemented in their country, but, at least until now, have not been done. This includes the consolidation of a democratic system and its consequences such as the rule of law, unconstrained freedom of speech and a standard of living with guaranteed social benefits.

The desire to see these values implemented in Ukraine has, more than ever, been seen in the recent social protests that took place in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine and which have become commonly known as the EuroMaidan. The trigger for this social movement was also quite illustrative: the decision made by the Ukrainian government not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. However, as time had passed, the protests changed in nature and focused on a different issue, namely the need to change the domestic situation, which was also strongly related to the implementation of some crucial rights and values. All of these events have confirmed that Ukrainian society wants to be in Europe and is ready for this challenge. To prove so, it has paid a very high price of the lives of some of its members.

With this in mind, Ukrainians are now ready to implement European values in their country and are willing to break away from the image of being an apolitical society, incapable of fighting for its own rights. They are ready for this because they want to “live in Europe and live like those in Europe”. To do so, however, they need to build their own democratic state.

Translated by Iwona Reichardt

This review is from the current issue of New Eastern Europe – Putin’s Powers. For more info visit: https://neweasterneurope.eu/component/content/article/1014-issue/1162-2-xi-2014-putin-s-powers

Maryana Prokop is a Ukrainian-born PhD student at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland, specialising in the Ukrainian political system.


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